Christmas is celebrated throughout the world with many traditions and various ways (to many to share hereon). Although the holiday itself has some dark history tied to it, our focus is from a more joyful, traditional perspective. It is both a cultural and deeply religious occasion celebrated by billions of people around the world. From the inclusion of the Christmas tree to the annual gift-giving, the feast day that spans through modern history has many traditions, myths, and stories that resonate around the globe. For instance, the evergreen fir tree has traditionally been used to celebrate winter festivals (pagan and Christian) for thousands of years. Pagans used branches of it to decorate their homes during the winter solstice, as it made them think of the spring to come. The Romans used Fir Trees to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia. Christians use it as a sign of everlasting life with God. However, nobody is really sure when Fir trees were first used as Christmas trees.
In America, communities around the country honored the day in different ways. Some observed Christmas as an important Christian religious day, honoring the birth of Jesus. Others celebrated the day with parties, music, drinking and eating. However, some communities did not celebrate the day at all. It was during the early 1800s that Americans began to reinvent the holiday. They started combining ancient Christmas traditions with modern American influences. Religion played a big role in how an American might celebrate the holiday. Calvinist Christians banned the celebration of Christmas. But groups such as Episcopalians and Moravians honored the day with religious services and seasonal decorations. By mid-century, Christian groups began to ignore their religious differences over the meaning of Christmas and honored the day in special ways.
Though the celebration of Christmas is not a biblical concept, the early church, (when is not actually known) in an attempt to get rid of the pagan holiday, declared December 25th to be the day to celebrate the birthday of the Son of God, though the Bible does not reveal the actual day or date that Jesus was born. Many historians think that Jesus was born sometime in the spring because the shepherds were in the fields at lambing time. It seems quite appropriate that the "Lamb that takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:19) would have been born during the time that all of the lambs destined for sacrifice in the temple were also born. Since it is also a fact that the very hour Christ gave His life for the sins of men, all over Jerusalem the Passover lambs were being slain (John 19:14). It would not be coincidence, but the timing of the plan and purpose of God. It was not until 1870 that December 25th was declared a federal holiday in the United States. With this said let's look at what we call the real reason for the Christmas season...
"And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." (Luke 2:1-7)
The census that was ordered by Caesar Augustus was the first of its kind. It was done because the Roman government wanted to make sure that everyone in the Roman Empire was paying their taxes correctly. The census was carried out over the entire Empire. For Jews in Palestine, it meant that families had to register in the their historical tribal town rather than where they lived. This also meant that Joseph and Mary, (Mary now pregnant with child), would have had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, as this was town that Joseph's family originally came from, a journey that would have taken about three days.
History reveals that during that time period there were no such things as motels or inns, such as we have today. People who traveled would have normally stayed in the homes of either extended family or friends. Due to the census, many people would have traveled to Bethlehem, so it was most likely that most, if not all of the houses, were filled with guests, especially the upper levels of houses, which were the guest rooms. So Joseph and Mary probably had to sleep with the animals on the lower level where it was common to have a manger cut into a wall where you put the animal food or they could have possibly been in a stable, cave or even a covered market stall that sold animals.
It was the custom in those times to wrap a new born baby very tightly in long bandages called swaddling clothes. The arms and legs of the baby were also wrapped, so they couldn't move. This was done because they thought it helped the baby to grow strong, straight limbs. And as no proper crib was available, the new baby boy was placed in a manger, or feeding trough. At the birth of Jesus we also see the angel of the Lord make the most wonderful announcement, For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:11) Then the heavens were filled with rejoicing, ...And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" (Luke 2:11, 13-14) So, let us remember that the Incarnate One is come, Christ the Lord. Have a very Merry Christmas...